Workforce Planning – what role for employers who care what happens to our older workers?

Is Technology Wiping Out Jobs For Older Workers?

As customers, we have all over the past few years seen the removal of checkout operators in our supermarkets and traditional bank tellers from our banks as self service and automation take over the majority of these roles. And apart from the irritating glitch when it asks you to put a bag in the bagging area but then objects to the bag you just put in the bagging area preventing you from actually purchasing anything at all, it all seems to be moving full steam ahead on the technology front with the accompanying removal of front line service staff.

But only a few years ago it was my experience as a customer that tens of thousands of people who wanted to continue working post retirement, took jobs in our supermarkets. I presume the attraction of these types of jobs was job flexibility including part time working and no requirement to retrain/re-qualify. So where have they all gone now with the loss of their jobs through automation? I expect some have gone into delivery driving jobs given the boom in that sector.

In 2006 just 5% of the over 65s were in employment. Now that figure has shot up to nearly 11% adding in 1.1 million workers to the economy. I get the sense through, looking at the world around me, that these people are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to loss of jobs through greater automation.

But if some have gone into delivery roles, that too might be a short lived career given the endless media reports about the progress of self driving cars and drone technologies. Of the tens of thousands of delivery drivers now on our roads, how many will still have jobs in a few years time when AI developments take over their jobs? And where will they go to earn their money next? It is said that advances in robotics and autonomous vehicles will affect up to 20% of jobs in the UK – that’s about 6 ½ million workers!

Whilst Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon reportedly earns £1.6 million an hour (I wonder if that includes his lunch breaks 😊) Amazon appear to be battling unions and staff about the fact that their drivers are not self employed as Amazon claims they are, but that they should instead be classed as workers. No doubt having seen the Uber battle over employment status played out in the press, the thought of having to start paying their drivers for holidays and sick pay and giving appropriate rest breaks will mean that Amazon and others will push through automation as fast as they can.  Delivery drivers reporting that they have to eat and pee in bottles in their vans due to slave like conditions may soon become a thing of the past, but is that what we would want for our older workers anyway?

So, with automation developments, what is going to provide the income opportunity our older workers are seeking? And do employers have any responsibility for supporting older workers retrain so that they can continue to play a valuable part in our workforce?

Perhaps as with our national budget for overseas aid, a little bit of companies ‘giving back’ budgets could be diverted from traditional charity payments and instead go into valuable activities closer to home – supporting our own older workers prepare for future employment.

The reality I think is that without concerted effort and investment of time and money by employers acting in the national and community interest now, I really can’t see that automation will serve anyone other than the existing corporate billionaires who have yet to learn that there is more to life than accumulating personal wealth.

Self-respect, self-worth and associated self-confidence should not be taken away by automation and the pursuit of wealth, but instead should be a given in a society such as ours. Sothe time to support our older workers is now before they are pushed aside and treated as inconsequential observers to what many call ‘progress’.

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